Originally Posted by LynnS6
I'd point out that the article is by philosophers and not MDs. Philosophers are engaged in the business of seeing how far intellectual claims can be pushed. Because of that I can't take the arguments too seriously. (OK, I'll admit to have been put off philosophy completely by having to sit through one too many really really boring philosophy talks in my grad program.) If you reject their initial premise, then their argument falls through.
One of my philosophy professors said that historically, the most influential philosophies tend to pre-date actual practice by about 50 years. Time will tell how influential these particular philosophers are, but if you read the article, you'll see that they're practically pilfering a highly influential philosopher, Peter Singer, who articulated this argument in his book, Practical Ethics. Like Singer, the authors are relying on a utilitarian philosophy of what's best for The Greater Good. Such arguments are often used to justify sending troops to war, (go fight and die for freedom, you country, etc.), and for compulsory vaccination, ("collateral damage" from bad vaccine reactions is OK because we kept disease at bay). Here's an example of that philosophy from the article's intro (emphasis my own):
It might be maintained that ‘even allowing for the more optimistic assessments of the potential of Down's syndrome children, this potential cannot be said to be equal to that of a normal child’.3 But, in fact, people with Down's syndrome, as well as people affected by many other severe disabilities, are often reported to be happy.5
Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.
I'm not much of a utilitarian (definitely not to this degree of fanaticism!), so this gives me the heeby-jeebies. The mentally ill, homeless, physically disabled, elderly, substance abusers, and so many other populations could be defined as being "an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole..."
As far as their premise goes, (i.e. that there is no morally relevant distinction between a fetus and newborn), when it comes to making those fine distinctions, all that I hear is subjectivity and arbitrarity. "If you're THIS dependent, (e.g. fed by breast or bottle, breathing oxygenated air), it's wrong to kill you. But if you're THAT dependent, (e.g. fed by placenta, ingesting my amniotic fluid), it's OK."
So I, for one, accept the authors' premise of equating a fetus to a newborn because I've yet to hear an intellectually or ethically sound defense of killing somebody at one level of dependency or phase of development versus another. As far as my own ethics go, I err on the side of acceptance and non-discrimination.
On that note, however, I'd be interested in what the authors consider to be a cut-off point. At what phase of development is it no longer OK to kill a newborn? Singer says 30 days, but even pediatricians know that developmental milestones happen at different times for different children--especially the disabled, although these authors justify infanticide for the able-bodied--so it it's hardly logical to slap a specific date when--Poof! Magic!--it's no longer OK to kill someone.
Interesting piece! Thanks for posting, Becky Bird!
Edited by Turquesa - 3/17/12 at 8:06am